Christmas Guest

It happened one day, near December's end
Two neighbors called on an old friend.
And they found his shop so meager and lean,
Made gay with a thousand bows of green.
And Conrad was sittin' with face a shining
when he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine.
And he said "Oh friends at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away
the Lord appeared in a dream to me",
and said "I am coming your guest to be."

So I've been busy with feet a stir,
A strewing my shop with branches of fir.
 The table is spread and the kettle is shined
and over the rafter the holly is twined.
Now I'll wait for my Lord to appear
and listen closely so I will hear his step -
as he nears my humble place,
And I open the door and look on his face.

So his friends went home and left Conrad alone.
For this was the happiest day he had known
For long since his family had passed away
­and Conrad had spent a many a sad Christmas day.
 But he knew with the Lord, as his Christmas guest,
This Christmas would be the dearest and best.
So he listened with only joy in his heart,
 and with every sound he would rise with a start
and look for the Lord to be at his door -
Like the vision he'd had a few hours before.

 So he ran to the window, after hearing a sound.
But all he could see on the snow covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn.
But Conrad was touched and he went to the door,
And he said, "You know your feet must be frozen and sore".
I have some shoes in my shop for you
and a coat that will keep you warmer too.
So with grateful heart the man went away
 but Conrad noticed the time of day-­
and wondered what made the Lord So late
 and how much longer he'd have to wait.

When he heard a knock he ran to the door
But it was only a stranger once more.
A bent old lady with a shaw of black
With a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest­
But that was reserved for Conrad's great guest.
But her voice seemed to plea - Don't send me away.
 Let me rest for a while on Christmas day.
So old Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
and told her to sit at the table and sup.
But after she left he was filled with dismay,
 For he saw that the hours Were slipping away
­and the Lord hadn't come as he said he would.
And Conrad felt sure he'd misunderstood.

When out of the stillness he heard a cry –

 "Please help me and tell me where am I."
So again he opened his friendly door,
and stood disappointed as twice before.
 It was only a child who had wondered away,
and was lost from her family on Christmas day.
 Again Conrad's heart was heavy and sad­ -
But he knew he should make the little girl glad.
So he called her in and he wiped her tear,
and quieted all her childish fears.
Then he led her back to her home once more.

But as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew the Lord was not coming today­ -
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.
So he went to his room and knelt down to pray.
And he said "Dear Lord, why did you delay?"
"What kept you from coming to call on me.
For I wanted so much your face to see."

When soft in the silence a voice he heard ­
"Lift up your head for I kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor­
and three times I came to your lowly door.
I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet,
and I was the woman you gave something to eat.
Three times I knocked and three times I came in.
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts
Love is the best. 

And I was honored to be your Christmas guest."
Helen Steiner Rice